Weekly photo challenge: half-light

This week, the WordPress Photo Challenge, set by Krista, asks us to match our photo to a poem, lyrics or story. Happy to oblige, with both a poem and a story …

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‘Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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‘Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

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‘Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.’

— Dylan Thomas

You can listen to him read the rest of the poem here.

I first read Dylan Thomas’s famous poem when I was sixteen. It was one of several poems we studied for English that year, and looking back, I wonder why those poems had such a strong focus on the theme of death (we also read Sylvia Plath’s notoriously gloomy work).

It was as though our English teacher had set the syllabus with the explicit intention of reflecting my own thoughts and griefs back at me. Between the ages of 13 and 17, I was reeling from the impact of multiple deaths in our family: four in as many years, two of them infants. It’s no wonder, then, that fragments of the poems  — rage, rage against the dying of the light — are imprinted on my memory.

Did the poems plunge me further into depression, or did they help me deal with what was going on? Perhaps bit of both. Plath certainly put into words the despair I felt, which may have helped me feel less alone, but I believe that poems like Lady Lazarus also encouraged my own suicidal feelings. I hope it’s no longer on reading lists for young people who might be at risk; on the worst of days I almost walked into the sea.

So maybe the photos above represent the half-lit world of grief and suicidal ideation that I wandered in during that time.

On the other hand, those few words at the beginning of Do not go gentle into that good night fully expressed my fury at the injustice and arbitrariness of death. I think that fury helped me sustain my fierce passion to live, in spite of everything.

Reading the poem again, almost 40 years on, I’m struck not only by the rage against death, but by the intensity of the call to live life to its fullest. Now the poem resonates in a different way. It matches my determination to do exactly that, as I approach old age: to be physically strong, to push my limits, be creative, have adventures, to never give up on what I want and believe in, to leave my mark on this world.

So that’s what the pictures really represent: the joy I find in being alive, in experiencing to the full the rich beauty of the world my senses show me — the drift of mist, the glitter of sunlight on water, and the transience of footprints in the sand. We may be here for a short time only, don’t waste your life in the shadows.

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